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Defence Spending — [Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:29 am on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Jack Lopresti Jack Lopresti Conservative, Filton and Bradley Stoke 10:29 am, 16th July 2019

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Anne-Marie Trevelyan on securing this timely and important debate, and on her enthusiasm and support for and her commitment to our armed forces and veterans. That is fantastic.

I must respond to the remarks of Mr Jones, whom I consider a friend, on how when Conservatives come into office we have to make some pretty tough decisions. The reason for that is very simple: every single Labour Government in history leave a mess to clear up, and we cannot defend our country if we are broke. As we regain our status as a sovereign, self-governing country—[Interruption.] I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman, so I ask for the same respect.

It is important that the UK is both a credible partner and a reliable ally. That means that the UK has to remain a tier 1 military power. We must retain a global reach and, if necessary, a sustainable level of effort either as a coalition partner or unilaterally. To achieve that, we must be able to field top-of-the-range equipment that can go up against any near peer competitor. We must not return to the situation when we deployed troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, where our forces were nicknamed “the borrowers” because we did not have adequate funding from HM Government to deploy and protect our people on those operations. We must also understand the threats that emanate from non-state actors or terrorists who seek to undermine our way of life and denigrate our resilience by attacking our critical national infrastructure in a cyber-attack. All that requires investment and a sustainable defence budget.

In the time I have left I will focus on the benefits of defence spending to our economy. The Royal United Services Institute estimates that for every £1 spent by Government on orders in the UK defence sector, well over a third—36%—is returned to the Treasury via taxation. The UK defence industrial sector is one of the world’s strongest, with an annual turnover of £22 billion, and it supports 260,000 jobs, many of which are highly skilled and well paid. I am proud to represent a constituency that is home to many of our world-class defence manufacturers, as well as the Ministry of Defence’s defence acquisition service at Abbey Wood, which employs roughly 8,000 people.

I am passionate about social mobility and apprenticeships. The Ministry of Defence is the largest provider of apprenticeships in the country; it has enrolled 53,000 civil service and armed forces apprentices since April 2015. Over 90% of military non-commissioned personnel now gain an apprenticeship as part of their trade training and first assignment. In 2018 the UK defence sector employed 4,400 apprentices. They are crucial to develop and continue our sovereign defence capability, and to develop the skills of our military personnel so that when they go back to civilian life after their service, they have the electronic and cyber skills and all the things they could need in future. As I said, 250,000 jobs are supported, so there is a huge argument for having a sustainable, properly funded MOD when we get to the comprehensive spending review.

Most of us would agree that we should, at least, maintain our minimum commitment of 2% of GDP: most would argue it should be nearer 3% to sustain what we are trying to do on a global stage and to continue our global reach. For social mobility, apprenticeships are a vital route to provide engineers and scientists, of which we are already short, and to give employees the necessary skills for our country for the future.